I became interested in composing when I first decided to play the recorder in 1972. Not having access to enough music to play (and limited funds), I found it necessary to arrange and compose my own. I learned quite a bit from writing out choral and instrumental pieces from my school's library for my own use. Today, the same lessons can be learned from the sequencing of the music of the masters into MIDI files.

Besides copying scores and arranging, careful listening can reveal many aspects of style and form. Performing the music is the best way to absorb this kind of knowledge, but attending concerts and listening to recordings can be just as helpful.  The two Harnoncourt books listed below will give you a good idea of what to listen for.

What not to do ?

I don't recommend anyone compose at a keyboard or any other instrument. It's too easy to compose a recorder concerto that will inadvertently sound like a piano concerto. Composing with pencil and paper (virtual or otherwise) will force you to use parts of your cortex that may be bypassed as you engage in "fantasy" at the keyboard. Of course, if your intention is to compose a toccata or free form piece, then go for it.

-Michael Starke, 2000.

Suggested Reading For Baroque Composers

Some of the books listed below have been in my library for many years and may no longer be in print or could be in the "xth" reprint. My philosophy has been to go to the source, or read what my favorite composers read, whenever possible.

J. J. Quantz
On Playing the Flute
Schirmer Books
ISBN 0-02-870160-7
Not only about playing the flute, but also lots of general info on what makes a good concerto, sinfonia, quartet, etc. .

J.P. Rameau
Treatise on Harmony
Dover Publications
ISBN 0-486-22461-9
Practical information about the fundamentals of composing for the beginner. Once you get by all the mathematical theories, the text is straightforward and practical.

C. Palisca
Baroque Music
Prentice-Hall, Inc.
This is a good source for understanding Baroque musical forms.

Knud Jeppesen
The Style of Palestrina And the Dissonance
Dover Press
ISBN 486-22386-8
The secrets behind Palestrina's exquisite use of dissonance for expressive effect.

Knud Jeppesen
Counterpoint-The Polyphonic Vocal Style of the 16th Century
Dover Press
ISBN 0-486-27036-X
This is a more nuts-and-bolts approach to Palestrina-style counterpoint.

Gioseffo Zarlino
The Art of Counterpoint
The Norton Library
ISBN 0-393-00833-9
Here is a translation of an important treatise. It is of great interest to me because of its influence on early composers.

Joseph Fux
The Study of Counterpoint
The Norton Library
ISBN 0-39300277 2
Fux's book replaced Zarlino's. Used by all great composers from J. S. Bach to W. A. Mozart.

Adam Carse
The History of Orchestration
Dover Press
ISBN 0-486-21258-0
I hesitate to include this book since it shares some of the same prejudices about early music as many others I hear from, e. g., the false evaluation of early instruments as primitive, faulty "precursors" to the more refined and perfect instruments of today. If anyone else has a book to recommend on early orchestration, please send the title to me.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Baroque Music Today: Music As Speech
Amadeus Press
ISBN 0-931340-05-5


The Musical Dialogue
ISBN 0-031340-08
These two wonderful books are loaded with information about the interpretation of early music, the motivations behind the composers to use certain figures and musical languages, orchestration, tempi, form, and more.

Thomas Morley
A Plain and Easy Introduction To Practical Musick

Walter Piston
Norton Press
ISBN 393 09737 4


ISBN 393 09728 5
Almost too perfunctory to be understood right away, these books are still useful if read carefully. All of the musical examples are from well known pieces.

If you can't find any of these books at your local library or bookstore, check at Powell's. You can search their complete inventory and
order by credit card via secure form.